NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi has inducted many young leaders in important positions in the Congress since taking over the reins of the party from his mother Sonia, but it is Team Sonia that is still in the forefront as the party gears up to take on the might of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Right from managing the organisation, boosting the party’s coffers and dealing with current and potential allies, the old guard — many of them veterans of past electoral battles — is running the show.
Take for instance the 9-member core group formed to oversee the 2019 national polls. Seven of them have long worked very closely with Sonia.
They are former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, newly-appointed AICC treasurer Ahmed Patel, A K Antony, P Chidambaram, Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh.
Sources said communications chief Randeep Surjewala and Karnataka in-charge K C Venugopal are the only two Rahul nominees in the nine-member group.
The only difference from the 2014 polls is the absence of veterans Digvijaya Singh, who is busy seeking votes for the party in Madhya Pradesh, and Janardhan Dwivedi, who is no longer an AICC office-bearer. Even octogenarian Motilal Vora, the former treasurer, has been retained and given charge of administration.
Besides this core group, Gehlot has also been made in charge of the organization. Patel, Sonia’s political secretary of long years and a key UPA operator, is back as the AICC treasurer at a time when the party is facing a major funds crunch ahead of the make-or-break national elections.
Aware that sewing up alliances with like-minded parties would be crucial for the grand old party, Patel and Azad are trying to keep like-minded parties in good humour, using their years of experience.
Azad is also in charge for Uttar Pradesh affairs where the party hopes to be part of a grouping comprising the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
On Thursday, four veterans Vora, Patel, Kharge and Gehlot jointly announced the party’s planned nationwide protest on September 10 against high fuel prices.
Kharge was recently given charge of Maharashtra, which sends 48 members to the Lok Sabha and where the Congress managers hope to benefit from an alliance with Sharad Pawar’s NCP.
“The Shiv Sena has left the BJP in Maharashtra. We needed someone of stature to deal with a veteran like Pawar who is respected across political circles,” said a party insider.
Kharge is also a cementing factor behind the Congress-Janata Dal-S alliance in Karnataka, which many in the party believe would be the model for the larger opposition alliance ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls.
Core group - 9 members
Old guard: AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram, Ashok Gehlot, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, Jairam Ramesh
Young leaders: KC Venugopal, Randeep Surjewala
Manifesto committee -19 members
Old guard: P Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Bhupinder Singh Hooda
Young leaders: Sushmita Dev, Manpreet Badal, Mukul Sangma
Publicity committee 13 members
Old guard: Anand Sharma, Pramod Tiwari, Bhakta Charan Das
Young leaders: Manish Tewari, Divya Spandana, Milind Deora